Monday, March 09, 2015

Every boring detail

I've always been interested in stories from the past, which is why I suppose I've become the de facto family history guru of my family (a brave move considering I have no idea what I'm doing). Historical fiction and biographies are by far my favourite genre. Sometimes a nice fantasy is...nice...but I'd far rather escape into history than into another realm.

Once when I was younger my mom agreed to send me to my aunt's house for a couple of weeks so I could hang out with my cousins, eat way more popsicles than was good for me, and work on the farm. My mom drove me down from High River to Raymond so that my aunt could pick me up from my grandma's house, except she wasn't able to make the trip the same day my mom was so I ended up having to stay overnight at my grandparents' house by myself.

And I was terrified.

My grandpa was scary and my grandma was boring and their house was so quiet and there was a large portrait of some old ancestors above the fireplace in the basement that really creeped me out.

When my mom left I sat on the stairs and cried, making my grandma feel terrible, I'm sure.

To help me feel better—and perhaps to make herself feel better—my grandma sat down beside me and told me a story of her grandma, which is also in her short life sketch as well:
Sometimes Pearl stayed at Grandma (Zilpha) Hancock's house in the afternoon. Grandma was nearly 80 with white hair that she wore long, and she wore dark dresses. She had a little wooden footstool on which Pearl sat in the kitchen. Grandma had Pearl look for four-leaf clovers on a shamrock plant without touching it. Pearl was to be quiet, so as not to wake the mice. When Pearl got bored Grandma would scratch the bottom of the tale and say, "See, you woke the mice." Pearl was glad to go home where there were more fun things to do. (The Hancock Legacy, p. 35)
She also told me that she wasn't allowed to put her feet on the rungs of the stool, nor was she allowed to swing her legs back and forth.

I think she also told me a story about going to help one of her sisters after they'd had a baby and having to sleep in the kitchen by the stove like Cinderella.

"Staying at my house can't be that bad, can it? I don't even have mice so you can make a little noise and I have a nice bed for you to sleep in, too."

It really wasn't that bad. And as I got older my grandpa got less scary and my grandma got less boring. I still remember how ridiculous it sounded to have to sit on a stool without moving and without making noise for an entire afternoon, though. Preposterous! No child alive would stand for it!

My grandpa (the scary one, who was only scary because he'd had a stroke and never regained the ability to speak correctly so whenever he talked his words would slur together and he'd wave his hands in the air to emphasize his point and sometimes he'd cough and drool; I'm not sure it was fair that we all were somewhat terrified of him for at least a few years of our lives over something he couldn't help but I'm also not sure it's fair to blame us for feeling that way) has a story in his history about facing a school bully:
Clyde and I were tormented by three bullies: Bobby Gaulds, son of Cappy Faulds, Taber Chief of Police; Bill Westhora; and Nick Guminy. 
We were afraid of policemen and every day after school we were chased home by the son of the policeman. Dad was working nights at the coal mine and needed his rest. The sound of us running on the board sidewalk always woke him up so Dad warned us not to come running home again. And here we were, running home as usual. Dad rapped on the window. Clyde was frightened. He turned and hit the policeman's son; at the same time, the policeman called to his son. We were a little scared but there was no more trouble from this boy. His father must have had quite a talk with him. We respected our father, also the law.
One recess I was sitting by the school and who would be chasing Clyde, none other than Bill Westhora. I stuck out my leg and tripped Bill. At the same time, our teacher (Mrs. Gidman) called Bill in. I suppose he was strapped hard for misbehaving. Anyways no more trouble from Bill. The old saying "United we stand, divided we fall." Clyde and I had to unite in order to survive against those fellas.
On the way home from school, we were chased by Nick Guminy. We just had to teach him a lesson. I was ahead of Nick, so as he cam nearer, I dropped to the ground. Nick tripped over me and Clyde jumped on his back. We proceeded to wash his face with snow. It was in the spring of the year, so it wasn't too cold. Nick went crying home. He lived north and east of our place. No more trouble from him.
Sometimes we have to retaliate, but the Savior said to love our enemies. There could have been a better way to handle our problems. (Faith, Farm, Family, p. 22–23)
What always struck me about that story when I was little was the wooden sidewalk. A wooden sidewalk? I wondered. Why would anyone even build one of those in the middle of town? Later, of course, I learned that they used to be pretty standard.

Life was weird for kids born in 1928 (my grandma) and 1915 (my grandpa), so weird that even the boring details sound fascinating.

This evening we read Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes during story time. The kids were enjoying it until we got to the part where it mentioned that Lilly "volunteered to stay after school to clap erasers."

Rachel's face screwed up and she raised her hand.

"Do you have a question?" I asked.

"Yes," she said simply. "Clap erasers? What does that even mean?"

I flipped to the front of the book to find the publication date—1996.

"Well," I explained. "Back when I was in elementary school we still had chalkboards in our classrooms and you know how when you erase a chalkboard everything gets covered in chalk dust?"

She does know this because chalkboards are still standard in our church buildings (not that they're used all that often; I find people avoid using them by printing out visuals instead).

"After you erase with the same eraser all day it gets so much chalk in it that it just starts smearing chalk dust all over the board instead of cleaning it up, so clapping the erasers was one of our classroom jobs."

"How do you do it?" she asked. "You just clap, with your hand?"

"No, you take two erasers and clap them together. Usually we'd do it outside, so sometimes we'd knock them against a brick wall or drop them on the cement if we didn't want to clap them together. Anything that knocks the dust off them will do."

"That is so weird!" Rachel gushed as she imagined the joy it must have been to be excused to go outside (unattended) to clap chalkboard erasers together while cleaning up the classroom for the day (it was seriously one of my favourite jobs).

Living so long that the most mundane details of my life are fascinating to small children: achievement unlocked.

(That happened a little sooner than expected and I just realized my grandpa would be 100 this year).


  1. Oh my goodness! You are right. Sept.8 this year, my daddy-o would be 100! I am sorry you were scared of my super fun, super nice dad! He was the BEST. (But...I was also scared of my only grandpa. I was happy when he died because phew! I wouldn't have to visit him anymore.)

    1. Well, I at least got to grow out of thinking my grandpa was scary before he died. :)

    2. True. My grandpa only lived until I was 6. Maybe I would have learned to appreciate him if he had lived longer...but he was already 93 at that point, so...